48-year-old sports marketing director Jane Hansom went from smoking and drinking party girl to Ironman triathlon Age Group World Champion in under seven years, and recently took AG wins at this year’s Challenge Roth, Challenge Finland and Ironman Dublin (such a badass!) Here, Jane talks training, racing and post-marathon margaritas. Just don’t ask her about swimming drills…
Seven years ago you were an unfit party-girl. How did your fitness journey kick off?
At school and university I competed at national level in both swimming and cross-country running, but working in a marketing agency entertaining clients left little time for sport. For 20 years I did ZERO exercise until 7 years ago when I was asked by my client Sony PlayStation to run the 2010 London Marathon with them for charity.
How did you find running after years of no exercise?
It was hard as I was unfit, far too heavy and very slow. But consistence is key and daily running meant the pounds fell off and the easier it got. I trained for six months, and by the time I toed the line I was almost 3 stone lighter and a size zero.
After putting the training in how was your first marathon?
It was easier than I thought [it would be]. I didn’t hit any wall. I wondered what all the fuss was about to be honest. My goal was under 4 hours and I ran just under that. I was hooked immediately and was planning the next within minutes of crossing the line. I then ran two more marathons in quick succession in the same year and decided my next goal would be the elusive sub-3-hour marathon.
A few years later you ran the New York Marathon in an amazing 2hrs 58…
This is my favourite sporting achievement to this day. It took me just over a year to knock that extra hour off my time. The cigs had to go, though. You can plod around in under 4 hours as a smoker but not if you’re running fast enough for a sub 3-hour [run]. I trained for 4 months. I was given a “sub elite” place in New York, which means you get preferential treatment. That means a 5am flashing police escort to the start line in a convoy of 4 pro/semi-pro athlete buses, a race start just behind the pro men, coffee, bagels and (the best bit) NO loo queues.
How did your move intro triathlon come about?
My brother reminded me I was a half decent swimmer and suggested that now I could run a bit, perhaps I should buy a bike and do this thing called a triathlon.
Which was your first triathlon and how did you get on?
The London test event for the Olympics. Standard distance. I won the race. On a bike the wrong size I bought from eBay. I was gobsmacked.
Did training across three disciplines instead of one take any adjustment?
Yes. It’s difficult to fit it all in. I loved running and missed running every day. Biking was my least favourite. It took up so much time and I was really crap when I started. An 80-year-old man once overtook me on a Boris bike. I kid you not.
You quickly made a success of triathlon. How did it feel to be representing Team GB? Is this something you’d ever envisaged?
You’re kidding? Of course not! I was overweight and smoked 20 fags a day. I could perhaps have been In the GB darts team but that’s about it.
How long was it before you signed up to your first Ironman triathlon?
Two years. I was terrified. I kept putting it off, as I was pretty sure I wouldn’t make it.
Was it difficult to fit in training for an Ironman alongside your job?
Yes. There’s no getting away from this. No shortcuts. The training has to be done. I just get up early. It’s the only way. The alarm goes off at 5am. I have to get the sessions done before the day runs away with itself.
How did your first Ironman (Switzerland) go and how did it compare to your expectations?
It went well. I won my age group by over 20 mins and even beat a few pros. It was easier than I thought. I had built it up so much in my head that I imagined a monumental effort. I imagined hitting a huge wall of fatigue like being hit over the head by a sledgehammer. Nothing like that happened. It was totally fine. I even cycled home after the race.
Amazing. That must have been a huge confidence boost?
Massive. I was thrilled. And totally hooked. My coach was there to watch. He’s an ex-horse trainer and commented that I was a “stayer”. I remember feeling proud to have lasted the distance and repaid his faith in me.
You’ve done Kona, perceived as the ultimate Ironman. How did this compare to Switzerland?
Kona is an iconic race but nothing ever beats the first time, does it?
Do you have any mental strategies for when you’re in the pain cave during an event or in training? Not really. I suppose I try to remind myself to remain ‘in the moment’ and ask myself, ‘Am I doing my best?’ Apart from that, I just keep on trucking. You can’t stop till the end so you may as well just try to get there as fast as you can.
Out of the three disciplines, is there one you enjoy least?
Not really. They are all about the same. I’m a Jack-of-all-trades and master of none. I’d never win a swim, bike or run race but string them together and I’m in with a fighting chance!
Do you have any pre-race rituals?
I hop on one leg and salute the sky. I’m joking. No. What will be, will be. If I’m on the start line and have done the training then I’ve done my best. It’s down to me, then. ‘Hoping’ for a positive outcome is not a good strategy for Ironman racing.
Do you get nervous before a race?
I do get nervous but remind myself that it’s ‘just another race’.
What do you typically have to eat for breakfast on the morning of a race?
Porridge and coffee. Always. In fact, that is my breakfast 365 days a year. Even when I’m working in the Caribbean (except they call it oatmeal there). I am a creature of habit.
How do you fuel your Ironman events?
GU Chocolate Outrage. Delicious. 10 of them!
What do you usually do to recover after a big race?
I had a margarita on the finish line after all my marathons! But I stick to a recovery shake after an Ironman. Otherwise I forget my bike and leave it in transition. But I eat LOADS after an Ironman. All bets are off. After a 9-hr plus race you can have anything you like. And then seconds!
What’s a typical week of training look like for you at the moment?
The split between them all is pretty much equal.
Monday – Swim and bike
Tuesday – Double run
Wednesday – Long bike
Thursday – Swim and bike
Friday – Run
Saturday – Long bike.
Sunday – Swim and run.
How much of your training is inside versus outside?
70% outside, 30% inside, and the reverse in winter, where I used the turbo and treadmill. My hands get too cold!
Do you do any strength work as part of your training?
What about swimming technique drills?
Never. An utter waste of time.
Are there many days when getting out to train is a struggle and you’d prefer to stay in bed?
No. Can’t afford that kind of attitude!
What are your favourite items of kit for racing and training?
Craft Bike Shorts – total ass savers. Cervelo P5X bike – like a space rocket. Almost rides by itself. Huub Wetsuit – fits like a second skin. And a loaded iPod full of EDM hits. I’m an ex-party girl, remember!
Have you any goals for 2017?
Defending my world title in The Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii
You came to triathlon pretty late in life. Do you ever wish you’d found it earlier?
Yes I do, as sport has changed my life immeasurably. But you know, I regret nothing. I’ve been to some of the best parties, gigs and countries on the planet having the most fun imaginable. I have a fabulous life and a great job running my own sports and destination-marketing agency. I have huge freedom and I love my job marketing fast bikes like Cervelo and exotic locations like the island of Nevis in the Caribbean. I feel very lucky. If I had been an athlete earlier in life I would not have the skills I have today to enable me to live the life I live now.
Do you have sponsors that support you in your events?
Yes I do – all approached and chosen by me as the leading badass brands in their chosen fields. They are all badass masters of their craft and I love them all: Cervelo for bikes, Huub for swim gear, On for running shoes, KitBrix for organisation, Superfeet for insoles, Craft for run/bike kit, Gu for nutrition, Erdinger for hydration, Fizik for bike components and CurraNZ for recovery.
Good luck defending your Ironman World Champion title, Jane!